I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has done anything to inspire or support the Monkey Queen series so far. It's a list that would be longer than this excerpt if I typed it all out! I am grateful to all of you, I am overjoyed that I get to share Michiko and Beth's adventures with you, and I thank you all.
After the cut: The first part of Chapter Three of Redblade! Enjoy!
"Blargh!" Gregor said as he stuck his head out of Michiko's shoulder bag. "Why do you always have to tell me those schmaltzy stories?"
"Because you're a big softie deep down inside!" Michiko said cheerfully as she walked through the woods. There had been several muggings in town lately, and reports from the bawson and spriggan communities of ogre activity nearby. She thought the two might be connected, and had brought Gregor along to help her investigate.
The guinea pig snorted. "The only thing soft about me is the fur." Gregor had been a powerful but selfish sorcerer a millennium ago, and when he was offered reincarnation for a chance at redemption, he eagerly accepted. However, being brought back as a black and white rodent had reduced his skills and sharpened his temper.
"I know!" Michiko grinned. "It's part of what makes you so cute!"
"Sometimes," Gregor muttered, "I think I'd prefer going back to Limbo over--"
"Hold that complaint." Michiko's smile vanished as she climbed over a tree that had fallen during a recent storm. She pointed to a clearing, where the higher branches of the surrounding trees wove together to form a makeshift and somewhat leaky roof. The ground there was covered with fast food wrappers, dirty clothing, and two oversized sleeping bags.
"Not that concerned with tidiness, are they?" Gregor said as they reached the clearing.
"Or their health!" Michiko pointed at the wrappers. "All that fried food will take ten years off their lives!"
Michiko set the shoulder bag on the ground. "You start searching for clues."
"And what will you be doing?" Gregor said as he crawled out of the bag. "Writing up diet plans?"
"Nope!" Michiko turned her back to the clearing and dropped into a crouch, her staff tucked under her right arm. "Kicking the butts of the two ogres who've been following us for the last few minutes!"
"What ogres--" Gregor stopped as a loud roar came from the nearby trees. Two monstrous figures that could only be mistaken for humans from a great distance smashed through the woods and ran towards Michiko, clubs raised. They were easily two feet taller than her, dressed in castoff clothing that was at least one size too small, with pale skin, thin hair, and yellow eyes that matched their pointed teeth. "Monkey Queen?" the guinea pig said.
"Search the lair!" Michiko jumped high in the air, somersaulting over the ogres' heads. She landed behind them and ran off, just slowly enough for the ogres to follow.
"You're in charge," Gregor said, shrugging as best as he could with guinea pig shoulders. He began to dig through the trash-strewn clearing.
* * *
Michiko stopped in front of the fallen tree and waited for the ogres to catch up to her. "Wow, you guys are out of shape!" she said to them. "All that burger grease is slowing you down!"
"Any more jokes?" one ogre growled.
"Besides your onion breath?" Michiko made a face. "Not really, no."
"Enough mockery!" The ogre raised his club.
Without looking, Michiko jumped up and backwards. She landed on her feet on the fallen tree. "But I've got mockery I haven't used yet!" she said with a pout. The side of the fallen tree was surprisingly smooth and level, and it was easy for Michiko to keep her balance. She was still careful, moving slowly as the ogres closed in. One jumped up onto one end of the tree, near the roots.
"Ha!" Michiko turned and saw the other ogre climbing onto the tree, near a clump of branches. "You were foolish, Monkey Queen!"
"Were?" Michiko said.
"You're trapped!" The ogre pointed up with his club. "We have you between us, and if you try to jump, you'll crash into those low branches!"
"Oh, no," Michiko said in a flat voice. "I am about to be charged at by two ferocious, clever ogres. I am surely doomed."
The ogre who had spoken grinned as he approached Michiko, club raised. Michiko looked over her shoulder and saw the other ogre running at her from behind. "Die, Monkey Queen!" he shouted.
She lowered her staff and waited until both of the ogres were almost upon her. Then, she jumped off the tree to the ground below. Ogres, she thought as they ran into each other.
Michiko turned and saw that one ogre was staggering back, while the other was spinning his arms around, trying to stay upright. She jumped back on the tree and struck the off-balance ogre on the head with her staff; he tumbled off the tree and hit the ground with a thud.
The other ogre was almost on her, but she easily dodged the first swing of his club. Before he could swing again, she had leaped in the air and kicked him twice in the head. As he reeled, she landed and unleashed an uppercut punch at his jaw; it connected, and he slumped across the tree, out cold.
Michiko took a quick deep breath, but as she exhaled, she felt the fist hitting her in the back, knocking her off the log. Ouch, she thought as she slid head first on her stomach across the muddy ground.
Above and behind her, she could hear the ogre chortle. "Any last words, Monkey Queen?" he said.
Michiko rolled on her back. She saw the ogre's club coming at her head, and she quickly raised her staff. The club shattered as it struck her weapon.
The shocked ogre stared at what was left of his club. "How about these," Michiko said as she drew her legs back. "Mix in a salad or two!"
She kicked up, connecting with the ogre's solar plexus, sending him spinning into the air. As he started to come down, Michiko jumped to her feet. She swung her staff at the ogre, hitting him in the side. He flew through the air, smashed into a nearby redwood, and dropped to the ground, unconscious.
Michiko grinned as she caught her breath. She looked down at the ogres, and her grin faded. "Oh, great," she muttered. "Now I have to drag them back to the campsite." She pulled the one ogre off the fallen tree by his collar, grabbed the other's jacket, and set off through the forest.
* * *
Gregor looked up from a pile of refuse as Michiko reached the campsite, towing the ogres behind her. "That didn't take long," the guinea pig said.
"I got in some butt-kicking and gave them some healthy eating lessons!" Michiko grinned. "I could host a talk show!"
"The one thing that could get me to swear off television for good," Gregor muttered.
"Everybody's a critic." Michiko dropped the unconscious ogres to the ground. "Anything?"
"Not much." Gregor tapped a piece of white paper next to him. "But I did find this receipt from the sporting goods store for the sleeping bags. It dates back to Sunday, and they paid in cash."
"And that's when the muggings started."
"To get money for food?"
"It may be more than that." Michiko scowled. "If they were buying sleeping bags and greasy burgers, they have to have had human seemings. But who did they get them from?"
"And they wouldn't be the first ogres with seemings we've seen recently," Gregor said.
"Good point." Michiko reached into a pocket. "Get a barrier spell up around them. I'll call Linden at the encampment to send some--"
She stopped as she heard the fluttering wings. She saw a pigeon swooping down through the trees. It landed on a branch and stared unblinkingly at Michiko and Gregor. "What does he want?" the guinea pig asked.
"Sorry, birdie," Michiko said cheerfully, "but I forgot to bring any bread crumbs--"
With a loud flapping of a wings and a threatening collective coo, several dozen pigeons flew out of the trees at her and Gregor. Michiko raised her hands to cover her face as the birds pushed into her, staggering her. She heard Gregor curse loudly as she tried to keep her balance.
The assault ended as suddenly as it began, the pigeons pulling back from Michiko and taking to the skies. "Gregor!" she said, lowering her arms. "Are you okay?"
"I am," the guinea pig said. "It took me a moment to get a barrier spell up. Are they gone?"
Michiko glanced around the clearing as she brushed feathers off her jacket. "They are," she said, "and so are the ogres."
"So the pigeons were a distraction?"
"And someone had to have sent them. Pigeons are urban birds, not forest birds."
"There's someone who works with ogres and pigeons?" Gregor asked as Michiko bent to pick up him and the shoulder bag.
Michiko frowned. "I should know this," she said. "I keep thinking there's something in the back of my head I need to remember, but it's not coming to me."
"Give it time," Gregor said.
"I just hope we have time to give," Michiko said as she started out of the clearing. "I need to figure this out before someone else gets hurt."
© 2015 Robert Dahlen. All rights reserved, except those granted by "fair-use" laws in your region.